It was a game changer for Raquel Alano when she made the transition from being a dance teacher to a dance studio owner. On top of managing 18 classes a week at Pacific Studio for Dance, she also took charge of accounting, as well as customer service. On top of that, she found herself responsible for marketing the business, something she had never done before.
“We use the website, making sure that the search engine optimization will always put us in the number one spot. I use Facebook, I use Instagram, and I would use Snapchat if I knew how to use it,” Alano says, laughing. “You wear all the hats.”
Like many small businesses, digital media is where Alano is investing her precious marketing dollars, after traditional ways of advertising such as glossy postcards failed to gain many new leads. According to the CMO survey, companies on average spend 8.1 percent of their revenue on marketing, and in the next five years, those surveyed plan to expand their social media spend by 90 percent.
But if you’re just clicking on the “boost post” button to promote your Facebook ads, you can be wasting your money, according to digital marketing expert Nick Venezia, managing director of creative agency Social Outlier.
“Facebook’s goal is to go through your budget as quickly as possible to free up inventory. So they’re not being effective for you, but there are tools out there that can help,” he says.
The go-to tool Venezia recommends for small businesses is AdEspresso, which is a Facebook ad optimization tool that helps maximize your advertising spend by automatically creating thousands of versions of your Facebook ads, doing split A/B tests on target audiences, and then determining which ones are the most effective.
“You can test everything and see what images, which calls to action, what text works the best to generate that sales call, or to get that email address,” Venezia says. “So it minimizes your spend and maximizes results.”
Venezia says the user-friendly interface guides you each step of the way, and users can join Facebook groups devoted to the app to share tips and ask other users questions. You can also set rules where if your cost-per-click exceeds a certain amount, the ad will be turned off so you can manage your budget.
“It gives you those types of tools that big agencies use, at a fraction of the cost,” he says.
AdEspresso starts at $50 a month, or you can try a free trial for 14 days.
"It gives you those types of tools that big agencies use, at a fraction of the cost."
For new businesses just starting out, finding cost-effective ways of marketing to new customers takes some pounding the pavement, according to Lisa Tsou, founder of The Winning Pitch, who helps technology and new media startups raise money.
“It’s finding who are going to be your early customers, going where they are, and getting in front of them in a positive way,” Tsou says.
She cites Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe, who grew her user base by visiting college campuses to promote the app to women, and then attending frat parties to demonstrate the app to men.
Tsou says it’s about getting to know your first customers really well. In fact, she calls it “dating your customer.” Not actually dating them, of course, but spending time to listen to them, understand who they are, and how they use your product.
“In some cases, your customers are not the people you thought they were going to be, and in other cases, they don’t want exactly what you think they would want,” she says.
"It’s finding who are going to be your early customers, going where they are, and getting in front of them in a positive way."
Tsou advises startups and small businesses to approach their most enthusiastic customers and ask them to become ambassadors—talk up your business, and help spread the word on social media. Perhaps offer them a small payment, or free products or services.
Look out for your micro-influencers, someone who is not necessarily famous, but has “a sphere of influence within a certain area.” They may have a few thousand or tens of thousands of followers on Instagram, but they post frequently on a particular niche, and their audiences are actively engaged.
A study by Markerly found that Instagram users with fewer than 1,000 followers received likes on their posts 8 percent of the time, whereas users with more than ten million followers received likes only 1.6 percent of the time. Markerly recommends finding influencers in the range of 10k to 100k followers for the best combination of engagement and broad reach.
“That can be a low cost way of getting your product or service out there,” she says.
To streamline workflows and communications on marketing projects with staff, contractors and freelancers, Venezia recommends Workplace by Facebook, a new tool for sharing inter-office information in a central place. “It’s a platform that’s a lot like Facebook, but entirely designed for your business,” he says.
On Workplace, you can create groups and project pages, where team members can upload documents, images, and give their input to the group. You can also stream live video and use instant messaging. Every member creates a professional profile page, and there’s also a newsfeed that shows you what’s going on across your business.
The standard productivity features like file storage and groups are free. For premium features such as integration with file storage providers, custom bots, and other administrative tools, it costs $3 per user for the first 1,000 active users.
Alano says she is getting the hang of marketing and plans to expand her business in the future.
“At the end of the day, it’s about what did the kids learn, and were you a part of it,” Alano says. “Every day for me is a new beginning of being a small business owner.”